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Another Purim, Another Chance to Celebrate God's Presence

February 17, 2011 By:
Rabbi Yonah Gross, Jewish Exponent Feature
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A grogger from 1866 was used to drown out Haman's name and (below) a program from the Hebrew Charity Ball in 1872 that also celebrated Purim. Both are at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

On March 6, my wife and I will celebrate our second wedding anniversary. In that time, we have had three children, lived in four houses in three states, and moved cross-country twice. While this may seem like a lot, we did have six years worth of days to do it all.

So why are we celebrating only our second wedding anniversary?

Well, it has something to do with Purim, and, in particular, Purim Katan, the little-known holiday that we mark this week, a full month before the classic commemoration of Esther, Mordecai and the victory of the Jews in Persia over those who sought to destroy them.

It's all about the inner workings of the Jewish calendar. We were married on the 30th day of the Hebrew month of Adar I in the year 5765 (2005), which was a Jewish leap year. While Adar typically has only 29 days, in a leap year it has 30, making our wedding anniversary the Jewish equivalent of Feb. 29.

To make things even more complicated, an entire month -- Adar II -- was added to the Jewish calendar.

The Jewish calendar is based on the moon's travel around the earth, but our seasons, and the secular calendar, are based on the earth's travels around the sun, which take a bit more than 365 days to complete. Twelve lunar months are approximately 11 days shorter than a solar year. To compensate -- and to avoid having Passover, the spring holiday, slip earlier and earlier into winter -- we add an additional month in seven out of every 19 years.

The addition of a month has ramifications greater than how often I have to buy my wife an anniversary present.

This issue affects yahrtzeits, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and, most prominently, the holiday of Purim.

The date of Purim during a leap year is subject to talmudic dispute (Megillah 6b).

While there is an opinion to celebrate Purim during the first Adar, the Talmud ultimately decides in favor of Rabban Shimon Ben-Gamliel to observe Purim in Adar II. This decision is unusual because it violates the principal that one should not pass over a mitzvah in favor of performing it at a later date.

Why does Ben-Gamliel advocate the opposite here?

The Talmud answers that he chose to prioritize another value -- that of connecting the holiday of Purim to the holiday of Passover. Since both celebrate redemption, they should be commemorated in close proximity to one another.

Adar I doesn't totally lose out, however.

The Talmud states that while there may be a dispute regarding which month to celebrate Purim, all agree that one should not deliver eulogies for the departed or fast to recognize its correlation with Purim.

Also, this unique day has a name -- Purim Katan, meaning "Little Purim" or "Minor Purim." Indeed, there is a custom to eat festive foods and to make sure we rejoice on that day.

But why? Once we establish Purim to be in the second Adar, why bother with any observance in the first?

Perhaps the answer is that this 14th day of Adar I -- which this year falls on Feb. 18, regardless of whether it is fully the festival of Purim or not -- is a day on which something great happened to the Jewish people. That alone is cause for celebration.

Our sages tell us that when an individual or a community is saved from potential disaster, that day should also be celebrated as a private Purim, and is also known as Purim Katan.

The purpose, just like Purim Katan of Adar I, is to recognize and to acknowledge God's constant presence in our lives and in our people's history.

Rabbi Yonah Gross is the religious leader of Congregation Beth Hamedrosh in Wynnewood and an advanced Talmud instructor at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia.


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